Our Hands Speak
Marisa Guerin PhD - April 26, 2018
The photo with this blogpost is of a fragile, yellowed, piece of sketch-paper on which my artist mother practiced drawing hands. I surmise that for the three images of a left hand, she used her own hand as the model. For the two images of right hands, given their postures, perhaps she was copying the hands of saints or angels in classical paintings – or maybe she posed her own hand in a mirror? Artists do things like that.
Each charcoal-sketched hand “says” something different. One of her hands is relaxed and at rest; one is open, inviting, encouraging and welcoming someone; one seems tentative, paused in the moment just before or just after a touch. And the other hands? One seems like downcast eyes, humble; the other expresses reverent awe.
So much human life, caught and preserved on that piece of paper! How many ways can hands speak?
Yesterday, I contemplated the photograph that graces the cover of my newly-arrived book of collected poems by Mary Oliver, titled “Devotions”. The photo is a close-up of hands (hers?) feeding a tiny bird from a spoon. What a perfect image to accompany her poetry of attention and care for our splendid world!
I wonder what my own hands are doing these days, how they are speaking for me. Typing seems like a pretty boring thing, not to mention the way it aggravates the arthritis in my thumb if I do it on my phone. But like it or not, it is the way I get a thought from my soul to my world. Lately, I’ve been taking a day each week to bake bread. It so happens that the kneading is therapeutic for the sore thumb, but the real purpose is to spend time mixing and coaxing the flour, water, yeast, and salt into the transformation that becomes bread. The rising dough amazes me every time, even if I’m a long way from expert. Making bread with my hands is a way for me to experience the transitioning from a reliance on creating with my mind and voice (my achieving self), to offering more my presence and support (my nurturing self). I’m still very much exploring how to live this retirement phase of my life.
My mother Conchita - Maria de la Concepcion Guibert Amor de Guerin - was born an artist. Although she had other siblings, it was she and her brother Ignacio Guibert Amor, a noted Spanish painter, who were constantly drawing, painting, sketching. My mom painted whatever she could, she studied with masters, and she eventually did commissioned portraits, a couple of which hang in the Presidents’ Lounge at St. Joseph’s University.
But I think that ultimately the language of her hands spoke most eloquently to me as she used them in her life: cooking dinner for us and for the lonely neighbor down the street; making beds and building bookshelves; spending hours in the chilly third floor studio with her canvas and paintbrushes;
changing diapers and hugging grandchildren; clapping with delight and using her hands to make funny faces to make us laugh; digging in the dirt to plant tomatoes; holding hands with her Joselito as they danced.
Our hands really do speak of our lives; I am grateful for the way the crumbling paper drawing of my mom’s hands reminds me of her, reminds me to value my own hands, reminds me to trust the hands of the Holy.